Metro Weekly

''Not Guilty, Not Ashamed and Not Finished''

Dan Choi and James Pietrangelo choose to face trial for charges stemming from White House protest against DADT

”I am not guilty, I am not ashamed, and I am not finished,” Lt. Dan Choi said while standing in chains befor D.C. Superior Court Judge Richard Ringell Friday, March 19, one day after handcuffing himself to the White House fence to protest ”Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”(DADT).

James Pietrangelo and Dan Choi after pleading ''not guilty'' at D.C.  Superior Court
James Pietrangelo and Dan Choi after pleading ”not guilty” at D.C. Superior Court
(Photo by Todd Franson)

Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo II, who joined Choi for the White House demonstration, were given two options for their charge, which was ”failure to obey a lawful order”: pay a $100 fine and close the case, or to go to trial. Both chose trial, the date for which has been set at April 26.

”There was no freer moment than being in that prison,” Choi told supporters outside the courthouse following the arraignment.

”It was freeing for me. I thought of all the other people that were still trapped, that were still handcuffed and fettered in their hearts,” Choi said of those restrained under the DADT policy that demands gay servicemembers hide their sexual orienation, while standing next to Pietrangelo.

Speaking to Metro Weekly, Pietrangelo said he’s been advocating for action against DADT for several years.

”I’ve been pushing for moving on from the talking phase to the action phase for a long time, and I personally feel that we’re not going to get equality unless we do it with the protests, civil disobedience and marches. This was just one way for me to put that into practice.”

Robin McGehee, the Fresno, Calif.-based co-founder of Get Equal, was also arrested during Thursday’s White House action, but was released that evening.

”We knew what Dan was going to do: When he dropped his wrist, the handcuffs were going to drop out and I was going to latch him to the fence,” McGehee says of her role in the protest. “Dan asked me the night before. I wasn’t going to deny him.

[Secret Service officers] grabbed me immediately and said I was the organizer of the event. We also had a permit, by the way; breaking the law was the fence incident. They arrested me and took me to a local jail.

Six hours and $35 later, McGehee was released.

”I never admitted to being guilty,” she says. ”It was kind of like a citation.”

Choi said the protest was his first of many to follow.

”This is a very clear message to President Obama and any other leader who supposes to talk for the American promise and the American people, we will not go away.”

Pam Spaulding, of the Pam’s House Blend blog, came from Durham, N.C., to attend the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) dinner in Washington Saturday, March 20. She also attended Choi’s arraignment.

”I think Dan Choi is an American hero, because it’s one thing to think in the abstract what ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ has done to the military and to gay rights overall,” Spaulding told Metro Weekly. ”To have him chain himself to the White House fence, to risk his career, his freedom, because he could be in prison, is something that no one in the gay community who has so far protested this has done in such a dramatic way. We need that kind of activism. …

”There’s nothing wrong with advocating for your rights by speaking to your reps on the hill, and there’s nothing wrong with direct action. Civil disobedience is still a part of the civil-rights movement. And this is still a civil-rights movement.”

While Spaulding applauded the action, some criticized an HRC-sponsored rally that preceded the protest, featuring Emmy-winning comedian Kathy Griffin. McGehee was among them.

”It makes me absolutely sick,” McGehee said Friday before the arraignment, explaining that Choi only spoke at the rally after being invited onstage by Griffin, despite a request from McGehee for his inclusion made to HRC President Joe Solmonese. ”Not only Joe’s statement to me that this was Kathy Griffin’s event when I asked about Dan Choi speaking, but that was more about a TV reality show than about our rights. She’s funny. What’s not funny i s there are people suffering under DADT. They made DADT a spectacle. It shows we don’t take our own equality seriously. Dan asked Joe Solmonese and Kathy Griffin to go to the White House and get arrested. Both stood back for the photo op and didn’t come.”

HRC spokesperson Trevor Thomas responded on the organization’s behalf.

”DADT repeal requires pressure on many fronts and we’re glad to work with Kathy Griffin who is using her notoriety as a platform to raise awareness of the issue. Her reading heartbreaking e-mails from servicemembers to the crowd of over 1,000 [by HRC count] at the rally — and yes, to a television audience — helps move people to action to fight this horrible law. As Robin surely knows, we all have different roles to play in our fight for equality and no one should be diminishing others’ work or questioning their commitment.”

McGehee says her original itinerary had her returning to California Monday, March 22, but that her stay will likely be extended for more political actions. Up next, she says, is a planned March 23 protest against Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) at George Mason University in Fairfax.”

Will O’Bryan contributed to this story.